Alex Pennington continues his five piece set with a look at the upcoming season for both Williams and Aston Martin.
Following on from the first part of the 2022 season preview series on Haas and Alfa Romeo, it’s time to look at two of the biggest names in motorsport, and two of the sport’s three traditionally ‘British’ marques: Williams and Aston Martin.
It’s genuinely tough to know what to say about Williams when looking forward to F1’s next era. The team is – by constructors’ championships – the second most successful in the history of the sport, behind only Ferrari. In drivers’ titles, only Ferrari, McLaren and Mercedes have more. Williams is a true giant of the sport. In recent years though they have seen massive struggles.
Financial worries which led to F1’s only remaining independent team being sold to US investment firm Dorilton have been the hallmark of the last few seasons, culminating in two years where the team took a total of 1 point: these were the worst performances in Williams’ long and storied history.
Moving forward, I do think that they have more reason to be optimistic. The aforementioned Dorilton Capital have effectively solved the team’s monetary issues, while allowing it to maintain its name and heritage. The budget cap now in place at $145m a year will also be of help and, even if not immediately, should certainly start to help them draw level with their competitors over time. Their poor showings in recent years may even be a medium-term positive due to F1’s new sliding scale for CFD testing of aerodynamic parts. Finishing last in 2020 gives them the largest amount of development time of any team, which will be absolutely crucial heading into the new regulations.
Next year’s driver line up is a bit of an unknown. Nicholas Latifi – who will be heading into his third year in the sport – will finally get a taste of life outside of George Russell’s shadow. He has been comprehensively beaten by the Brit since joining Williams, only outqualifying Russell once (excluding Sprint Qualifying). He has shown big improvements though, and that deficit has been shrinking continually. What remains to be seen is if he can stamp his authority on Williams as its most experienced driver and lead it forward.
Meanwhile, Alex Albon re-joining the grid is an exciting prospect for next year, especially away from what some see as the toxic pressure and driver development environment at Red Bull. He certainly has raw talent and pace, and a fresh start with new regulations could be just what he needs to shine. There’s also his experience with Red Bull as test and development driver, which will have massively improved his feedback skills, a crucial aspect of maximising performance at the beginning of F1’s new era.
All of this combined means that Williams now has a stable, sustainable financial platform to work with, increased development time compared to others, and a driver line up which, while not the best on the grid by any stretch, is solid enough to fight well in the midfield. Do I expect them to pull a Brawn GP next year and come away with the championship? No. But I do expect to see them more solidly embedded in that midfield fight in 2022.
This is a team whose 2021 season has been a story of frustration and underperformance. Aston Martin is, of course, the same Racing Point/Force India team which became renowned for pulling incredible results out of a small operation with limited finances. After a 4th place finish in 2020, and with new backing from Aston Martin and billionaire Lawrence Stroll, they were expected to do well. The revised technical regs this year, (supposedly) devised to peg back Mercedes, have had a knock-on effect for all teams running a low-rake philosophy though, and left them struggling towards the bottom of the midfield. Next year is a chance to reset and restart their push to the top.
Organisationally, Aston Martin is in superb shape. Lawrence Stroll has a huge amount of involvement in the team’s management and certainly knows how to run a successful business. Team principal Otmar Szafnauer is a very well-respected figure in the paddock, and his leadership style certainly seems to be effective based on past results. Further, using Aston Martin’s new and significant financial backing, they have made some serious personnel investments. Just the latest in a line of hirings is Eric Blandin, Mercedes’ chief aerodynamicist, moving after the 2022 season. Red Bull’s aerodynamics head, Dan Fallows, has also been announced as the team’s future technical director, along with Alfa Romeo’s chief designer joining as engineering director. On top of this, ground was recently broken on Aston Martin’s new F1 factory and wind tunnel, a £300m project which will give them the largest development and production campus of any team on the grid.
Of course, these changes will all take time to take effect, so what about the immediate future? What can Aston Martin expect from their drivers next year? Lance Stroll has come under constant scrutiny since his entry into F1 for being the son first of a billionaire, and then for being the son of a billionaire who owned his team. Is his uncontested hold on that seat fair? Probably not. But Stroll has proven to be a capable midfield driver, and more than able to fight through the field, even if this is usually as a result of poor qualifying.
On the other side of the garage is Sebastian Vettel. The 4-time world champion is a huge asset to the team, commercially and in development terms. His detailed notebooks are famous in F1, and he has often been described as working like another engineer, such is the depth and accuracy of his feedback. A team with big ambitions could not ask for more. Four championships and two on-track podiums in a 7th-placed car this season should also serve to allay any fears over his quality as a driver when the car is underneath him.
Aston Martin is a medium-term project, make no mistake. It’s very difficult to place them for 2022, and I don’t see them troubling the top teams for at least a couple of years, but I do think they will be firmly in the battle to top the midfield in the first year or two of the new regulations.
In next week’s edition of the F1 2022 preview series, we’ll be moving on to look at two slight oddities on the grid in Alpha Tauri and Alpine, currently embroiled in a battle for 5th in the constructors’, and what their ambitions will be moving into 2022.